Story by DANNY MOGLE // Photos courtesy Tyler Museum of Art // May/June 2017
When Caleb Bell started thinking about what to feature at Tyler Museum of Art, he was intrigued with summer as being the season of big-budget movies featuring larger-than-life characters who define pop culture.
“I was following this idea of the summer blockbuster and started playing around with that,” the museum’s curator says.
It led Bell to Texas artist Ed Blackburn whose subjects simultaneously inhabit the worlds of fact and fiction, reality and myth. Bell was a fan of Blackburn’s large-scale paintings of scenes from 1950s’ and 1960s’ cinema.
From private and museum collections, Bell assembled Blackburn’s cinema art into “Double Take — Works by Ed Blackburn.” On view May 14 through Aug. 20, the exhibition marks the first time these works have been seen together.
The museum also is displaying movie-inspired art by Blackburn’s wife, Linda.
POP CULTURE ON CANVAS
Ed Blackburn was born in Amarillo in 1940. He earned a degree in art from The University of Texas at Austin in 1962 and a master’s degree from The University of California at Berkeley a few years later.
Throughout his long career, Blackburn has painted images and made prints based on people who inhabit the worlds of politics, news, cinema and popular culture.
His art, which sometimes combines text and image, is in numerous private collections and the permanent collections of Houston Museum of Fine Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Tyler Museum of Art.
“He (Blackburn) has a prolific body of work and over his career has been interested in a lot of things,” Bell says. “Much of his work has pop cultural references but he’s always exploring many ideas.”
For his cinema series, Blackburn painted scenes from movies that star Hollywood icons, such as Elvis Presley, Hopalong Cassidy, Marilyn Monroe and Gregory Peck
The painting of Peck comes from “Marooned,” a 1969 movie in which he plays an astronaut stranded in space. Elvis is depicted in a scene from “Tickle Me,” a 1965 musical in which he plays a singing bullrider working at a dude ranch.
Blackburn sometimes inserts the unexpected. In “Elvis/Blue Boy Still Life” he superimposed “Blue Boy,” a portrait painted in 1797 by Thomas Gainsborough, on top of Elvis in a fight scene. The art is displayed as an installation. In front of the painting is a wooden table holding objects that seem to mimic a Cezanne still life.
Blackburn says he combines things that don’t go together in order to create tension. “I think that’s what good art always does in a way. (It) makes you see things different.”
CINEMA AS FLAT ART
Blackburn says he is attracted to images from cinema because they hold multiple layers of meaning and create different responses based on the viewer’s knowledge and feelings about the movie and actor.
“All the choices — the particular scenes, with the particular actors — are to establish a certain esthetic identity when the (movie) image exists as a painting. … I think also in a painting of a movie that works well, you don’t really forfeit any aspect of the movie but just connect with it by a different route.”
Those unfamiliar with the movie or actor can still appreciate the image as art. Blackburn says. “Any visual image has the ability to explain itself completely. (That) might even be what a visual image actually is. The trick though is you have to be able to see it.”
“Double Take” challenges people to look at sometimes familiar images and see them in a new way.